Since the British Grand Prix back in July, the podium finishers have been interviewed in front of the fans. The post-race press conference still exists, but the ‘TV unilateral’ now takes place on the podium rather than in a room in the pit building. There’s undoubtedly been a mixed response to the podium interview format, with the interviews arriving amidst a new podium design that involves entry music and electronic flags. Fans get to see drivers interviewed fresh from stepping out of the car; the chanting for Kamui Kobayashi following the Japanese Grand Prix was one of those moments in F1 history. But the winner of the first race that featured the interviews – Mark Webber – isn’t a fan.
“I certainly wasn't impressed in Silverstone with 1000 dignitaries up there. I think the podium should be for the drivers, no one else. A clear shot of celebration of the drivers and what they have achieved. Not having everyone stand in front and having their five minutes. That pissed me off. You need real flags. The electronic flags look rubbish. You need real flags waving in the wind. Drivers [interviewing] on the podium...? I am 50/50 on that”.
Webber does have a point. The electronic flags do look out of place, but more pressing is who conducts the interviews. The most well received interviews have come at races where ex-drivers turned pundits have been posing the questions. Abu Dhabi, for example, even if that was assisted by Kimi Raikkonen’s deadpan delivery as well as his use of profanities.
F1 is turning more into being a ‘show’ and the use of ex-drivers to pose the questions is part of that. But eventually, they’re going to run out of ex-drivers or the format will become less of a novelty. The format is being refined for the better, but there have still been some races where, quite frankly, it was a little bit cringey. For all of his achievements, Jacky Ickx was averaging about a word every five seconds. Despite all of the pundits wandering around every paddock, the microphone in Hungary was handed to Placido Domingo. Even now, it seems surreal. Was there really a race where Kimi Raikkonen was interviewed by an opera singer after finishing in second place? Yes, there was…
There’s a better way to do it and the FIA is learning. Drivers turned pundits have ultimately made the experience more watchable, such as in Abu Dhabi (Coulthard) and India (Brundle). They could go further though. Use of mixture of ex-drivers and journalists. Anyone only needs to watch the GP2 and GP3 interviews with Will Buxton, particularly the interview following the GP3 finale in Monza. Buxton is not a racing driver, but the interviews flowed because he knows the GP2/GP3 drivers and he knows what to ask just after the chequered flag has fallen. There are plenty of journalists like Buxton who have been to hundreds of races and know what each driver is like. Using a journalist also makes the podium interviews less about the interviewer and more about the interviewee – like it should be. This is partly where Webber is coming from. Someone’s just driven their guts out for ninety minutes, only to be overshadowed slightly by a big personality when it should all be about the winner.
The FIA has developed an intriguing format, but it could be improved further to create a greater experience both for fans trackside and watching worldwide.